I think the first thing I must mention is that the time when I was in college, if you were doing decently well in studies, you did medicine or engineering or, maybe, IAS. There were very few other professional options people pursued.
A friend, many years later, gave me a phrase. He said, "If you do things you believe in, even if you fail, at least you are the victim of your own biases". I went ahead with BSc at the end of which, I was just as confused as I was when I quit medical college. That was a time when management education and the IIMs were just beginning to get popular. I wanted to be a lecturer but my father had been one and he said, "Lecturing is great fun. It is noble but by the 20th of the month when you have no money for breakfast, it doesn't seem very noble after all."
I eventually did make it to IIM Ahmedabad and when I met the people there, I was struck by how, the heart of the monster lay in the academic background. People would introduce themselves as "IIT Delhi, Gold medallist". After I heard a few of them, I said, "I am Delhi University. Rank 143." This taught me something important. I learnt that 'background claims' are of no consequences. I think the Die Hard character John McClane said it best, 'It is what you do that makes you the man.'
The third important thing that happened to me was joining Enterprise. I had worked at Lintas for eight and a half years and it was great fun. When I was joining Enterprise, people dissuaded me. I was told how Mohammed Khan (the founder) is a quintessential creative person - the right brain guy - while I was the analytical left brain person and that we would find no meeting point. However, I found that the left and right do meet. I discovered that good creative people and good strategists do not have arguments. It is insecure creatives and bad strategists who have fights.
Another thing, I must add, which definitely is a defining moment happened a few years ago. For a long time, there has been a notion that people from management schools - especially IIM-A - are not entrepreneurial. Thus a book - Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish - written by Rashmi Bansal that featured 25 alumni from the institute who had done their own thing. It was requested that the email IDs of these 25 were put at the end of the book so that people knew how to get in touch with them. The reality of what is actually turning on India would not have come through to me as richly and as authentically as it has, thanks to the people who have written having found my email ID in that book.
I am what I call a 'Mental Musafir'. I love the idea of intellectual exploration. Across my work experience, I have come across three people who have had an intuitive sense about what communication is. One was Alyque Padamsee, at Lintas. Then, there was Khan at Enterprise. And briefly, between the two, I worked in a start up agency called Fulcrum, set up by Kersy Katrak. What I learnt from them is that it is more important to just apply intelligence, without getting carried away with the desire to be an intellectual.